Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

When Being Different Makes Us Powerful, a guest post by Jessica S. Olson

It was at a very young age that I realized I was different. I was born with strabismus, an eye condition that caused my left eye to point permanently toward my nose in a way that made it not only difficult to see, but difficult to socialize, even as a child. Two major eye surgeries later, my eye no longer stuck inward, but I was left with a condition called strabismic amblyopia, or, as society has not-so-lovingly nicknamed it, a “lazy eye.” There is no cure, no surgery that can fix it, no glasses that would make it better. I will be cross-eyed for life.

None of the children I went to school with directly came out and said “you’re worth less because you are different.” They didn’t have to. They showed me that’s what they thought by the way they avoided talking to me, went out of their way to not make eye contact with me, or even, at times, directly belittled me and called me offensive names.

I internalized it all. I became uncomfortable in social situations because I was afraid people would think I looked weird. I avoided driving in cars in high school with guys I liked because I couldn’t look at the driver from the passenger seat properly without my eye going the wrong direction. And when I was passed over for group outings or ostracized or called “Mad-Eye Moody,” I took it. I thought I somehow deserved to be treated that way because I had the gall to be different. As if I’d chosen it at all. As if it were my fault.

We walk through life, all of us, being told we need to blend in. Especially when we are teens, we are fed this message that if we aren’t the right weight, if we don’t have the right look, if we don’t wear the right makeup, there is something wrong with us. The growing influence of Instagram, TikTok, and other social media websites has only added fuel to the fire. Over and over, the world whispers that we need to filter who we are and what we look like to “fit in,” that we must be flawless to have worth, and that those of us who don’t fit the world’s definition of “perfect” cannot be valuable.

That’s not only a lie; it’s an incredibly damaging one. Anxiety and Depression in teens are at an all-time high. Teen suicide rates are at staggering rates as well. Yet we continue to allow our culture to perpetuate the myth that being different is wrong—when really, who hasn’t felt different or weird at some point in their lives? When we compare our worsts to other people’s Instagram highlights, we will always come up short, regardless of whether our eyes function in tandem or not.

My debut novel, Sing Me Forgotten, tells a gender-swapped version of the Phantom of the Opera story from the Phantom’s perspective, and it explores how deeply damaging it is when society villainizes people for the ways they differ from what’s expected. It shows how dangerous it can be for everyone when a culture abuses someone to their breaking point. But not only did I hope to directly oppose the concept that different is bad with this story, I aimed to show that those who are told they are worth the least are often the most powerful of us all.

My phantom girl, Isda, is fierce and determined and brilliant, and what she looks like has no bearing on her value. But though she lives in a fantasy world of opulence and magic, she is still just a teen. One who has been forced into hiding by the many who have shunned and rejected her. One terrified of not living the life she dreams. One lonely and so desperately hoping she’ll find someone who’ll think she’s worth loving.

In many ways, she is me. She was written from pieces of my experience growing up. Her pain and her fear are as real as my own. And, sadly, her plight is not a unique one. Young people all over the world are being hurt, bullied, and broken down every day, and over and over they’re being told that they are worth less because they are different.

My hope is that there will be teens who will see society’s lies for what they are. That they will find in current YA stories the hope that they so desperately need. That they will comprehend how fundamentally important they are and how groundbreaking it is to love themselves even when the world refuses to. Because being different is not a crime. Being different does not decrease our value. The world only pushes us aside because it fears what it cannot understand, but that isn’t on us.

We are powerful because we are different. We understand more and we understand deeper because of the trials we have faced.

So let the world fear us, and then let us prove to it just how magical we are.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Breanna Olson

Jessica S. Olson claims New Hampshire as her home, but has somehow found herself in Texas, where she spends most of her time singing praises to the inventor of the air conditioner. When she’s not hiding from the heat, she’s corralling her three wild—but adorable—children, dreaming up stories about kissing and murder and magic, and eating peanut butter by the spoonful straight from the jar. She earned a bachelor’s in English with minors in editing and French, which essentially means she spent all of her university time reading and eating French pastries. Sing Me Forgotten is her debut novel.

Website: www.jessicasolson.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jessicaolson123

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jessicaolson123

TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@jessicaolson123

About Sing Me Forgotten

Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.

Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.

But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.

Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place.

ISBN-13: 9781335147943
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

THIS IS NO GAME: WHEN FACTS MATTER, SPORTS NON-FICTION IS A GOOD PLACE TO TURN, a guest post by Andrew Maraniss

Everything we hunger for in this country right now – racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability, a stable democracy, managing COVID – requires a fundamental commitment to seeking the truth and acknowledging basic facts.

As this year’s theme for Teen Librarian Toolbox states, #FactsMatter.

It’s such a timely theme. And such an indictment of so many of our neighbors that we even have to say it.

With so many powerful institutions profiting from lies, “alternative facts,” and conspiracy theories  – from Fox News to corners of the Internet to the Republican Party  — it falls on the rest of us to push against the rising tide of misinformation and hate in whatever ways we can.

I’ve chosen to do it by writing books for young readers that extol the enduring values of truth, equity, and justice through the lens of sports.

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

My first book, STRONG INSIDE, is the story of Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated the Southeastern Conference in the 1960s and later became an esteemed law professor. My second book, GAMES OF DECEPTION, is the story of the first U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, which played at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. My third book, which just came out this week, SINGLED OUT, is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and inventor of the high-five. I’m writing a book now on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, to be told in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

Why sports? First, I’ve been hooked as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read as a five-year-old by examining the back of baseball cards. The first time I cried of happiness came when I was 12 years old and Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 playoffs. One of the biggest thrills of my life came in 1998, when I was able to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium as a member of the media relations staff for the Tampa Bay Rays. I went to college on a sportswriting scholarship and my ‘day job’ today is in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University.

But more important than any of that, what I value most about writing about sports is that it’s a genre that is highly accessible to just about anyone. When a young person picks up a book with a baseball or basketball player on the cover, it’s likely that they’re not going to feel intimidated by the subject. But once they dig into the story, they’ll realize the stories are not about scores and statistics or tired sports clichés– but about the denial of justice to so many in America and around the world, whether by racism, fascism, antisemitism, homophobia, or sexism, and the critical difference between being a bystander and upstander in the face of such injustices.

Because sports-related nonfiction offers “windows and mirrors,” a peak into the lives of other people or a reflection of the reader’s own place in the world, they provide valuable opportunities for empathy and understanding. And the audience for sports books is probably as broad or broader than any other genre –  no parameters on age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, academic achievement, race, or religion.

But within that universality, there is also a subversive element to the best sports books. For many people, the sports world has been seen as American as hot dogs and apple pie – where old-fashioned notions of patriarchy, patriotism, and white supremacy have traditionally gone unchallenged. So what better genre than sports to shine a light on the everyday elements of American life that have perpetuated injustice? These are the stories where the truth shines the brightest.

The lasting lesson of both STRONG INSIDE and GAMES OF DECEPTION, books that deal respectively with the civil rights movement here and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, is the same: the profound danger of standing by and doing nothing when injustices are perpetrated against others. I think of that lesson often when I hear people criticize modern-day athletes for taking a stand for justice, whether it’s NFL players taking a knee or WNBA players supporting a Senate candidate. If the big truth to be learned from these monumental periods in world history is to speak up, then how can one fault athletes, citizens like anyone else, for using their platforms to call out injustice? When Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tells LeBron to “just shut up and dribble,” we see clearly that she’s not just missing the lesson of history, but actively suppressing the truth.

For those who haven’t succumbed to the notion that the truth is irrelevant, it’s easy to spot the liars. But we must also to turn a skeptical eye toward those who call for unity or civility. Of course, both concepts sound reasonable and are desirable long-term outcomes. But as Perry Wallace once told me, “reconciliation without the truth is just acting.” Any efforts toward unity and civility must include truth-telling and acknowledgement of facts as necessary preconditions. Unity and civility without justice are just other names for oppression.

The best nonfiction books – even sports books! — name the problem, praise the real-life heroes, call out the real-life villains, and pose direct questions where facts determine the right answers.

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss writes sports-related nonfiction for adult, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. His books have received the Lillian Smith Book Award, RFK Book Awards Special Recognition Prize, and Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Andrew lives in Nashville and manages the Sports & Society Initiative at Vanderbilt University. Read more about his books at www.andrewmaraniss.com and follow him on Twitter @trublu24, Instagram @amaraniss, and on Facebook at /andrewmaranissauthor.

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

From New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss comes the remarkable true story of Glenn Burke, a “hidden figure” in the history of sports: the inventor of the high five and the first openly gay MLB player. Perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown. 

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. 

But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come. 

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the MLB and the World Series, the joy in discovering who he really was, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Packed with black-and-white photographs and thoroughly researched, never-before-seen details about Glenn’s life, Singled Out is the fascinating story of a trailblazer in sports—and the history and culture that shaped the world around him.

ISBN-13: 9780593116722
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: 3 RPG Games I Want to Try on Roll20, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

I recently started to run the virtual Dungeons and Dragons for my library on Roll20. I was so grateful to learn about Roll20 from friends and YouTube videos. I do know there are so many more RPG games that can be played with teens on Roll20.  Here are three cool games other libraries have played.

Learn More: Roll20 101 Crash Course

  1. Masks!: This is a superhero RPG.  Players take the role of the new crop of superheroes and must work together to fight forces of evil. This game looks perfect for teens since the characters are teens.  Normal Library in Illinois ran this on Roll20 as a one-shot.  I think using games as a one shot is super helpful because if the teens enjoy it you can always make it a series.  Here is a link to learn more about Masks! https://www.magpiegames.com/masks/
  2. Call of Cthulhu: This is one of the more popular RPG games. I have had a few of my former coworkers play this with the teens before the pandemic. This RPG is about being an everyday investigator of the unknown. You can be one of many different characters trying to dive into the mysteries that live in the Cthulieverse. Cthulhu, for those who do not know who Cthulhu is, is a monster created by Lovecraft which is often a sea creature that looks like a squid or octopus and has a cult surrounding it. It is one of the more popular monsters. Reed Memorial in Ravenna, OH has been running this RPG using Roll20 doing two hour sessions.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmTFHSrV5TE&feature=emb_title
  3. Goblin Quest: This is a fun slapstick type RPG game filled with Goblins. It seems very similar in humor and vibes to the popular card game Munchkin. There are missions like saving Dwayne Johnson aka the Rock. The goblins make many mistakes along the way and often die. If you are looking for a non-serious game this looks great. It was started with a Kickstarter.  Normal Library also ran a session of this RPG on Roll20. https://www.amazon.com/Goblin-Quest-Softcover-fatal-incompetence/dp/0996376518

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Take 5: Middle Grade Book Lists for 2021 New Releases

Looking for some great middle grade reads for 2021? Here is a roundup of some great book lists out there. These all highlight new middle grade releases for 2021, with a focus on the first half of 2021.

91 Middle-Grade Books to Read in 2021

Book Review: Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira

Publisher’s description

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jane the Virgin, this immediately accessible and irresistibly fun #ownvoices rom-com debut will spin readers into an unforgettable summer of late-night dancing, broken hearts, second chances, and telenovela twists.

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

Amanda’s thoughts

Certainly here’s how everyone would LOVE to spend their summer after senior year: not technically graduated yet thanks to needing to fulfill an internship credit, performing in the quince of a cousin you’re in a feud with, surrounded by former acquaintances and distanced family members, and oh yeah, you’re also doing all this with your crush who’s actually your cousin’s date AND your ex-boyfriend/nemesis.

I mean, this whole story is sort of fairytale-based, and that’s obviously the one we all hope will play out for us—a summer of utter awkwardness full of people you generally dislike. Wheeee!

Might not be a great setup for real life, but it sure makes for a good story! Carmen isn’t psyched to be spending her summer performing as a princess at children’s parties, but I’m guessing she’d rather do a zillion of them than perform at her cousin Ariana’s quinceañera. Carmen’s own quince was cancelled thanks to some drama a few years back with Ariana and her family, so it’s really insult to injury to have to perform at this. And to make things worse, Mauro, her ex who moved away, is back, working for the party company, and everywhere Carmen goes. He wants them to be friends, but Carmen’s main question of the summer seems to be “do people really change?” and let me tell you, she is not one to give anyone the benefit on the doubt. But Mauro is persistent, and eventually Carmen agrees to be friends with him—or friendish. She’s super good at holding onto a grudge.

As summer progresses, there comes a point where everything seems perfect, so of course, queue some further drama and disasters.

This was a great read that will have wide appeal. Gomez-Hira makes the hot Miami summer come alive as we follow Carmen and crew through days of dance, Disney, and drama. Great dialogue (and such good banter between Carmen and Mauro) will keep readers flipping pages, probably hoping that Carmen and Mauro figure out how to find their own happy ending. Good fun.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062996831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

“Who do you think you are?” a guest post by Monica Gomez-Hira

The author at her college graduation.

Growing up, I could not leave my house without my keys, my wallet, and the elaborate blessings by Mami gave me to protect me from el ojo malo—the evil eye.  When I was younger and fidgeting while she drew the sign of the Cross on my forehead before I left for school, I took the idea of the eye literally. It would be something like the Eye of Sauron, spanning the horizon until it landed on me and burnt me to cinders.

It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that the evil eye was actually not our main problem. The evil eye was supposed to be caused by those green with envy, people wanting your possessions, your relationships, your life. But…it seemed presumptuous to even think that about us. We were a working class Latinx family in an area full of them. I couldn’t see that we had anything particularly special.

No. The real problem we always had was way more common. The evil tongue, the whispers that would follow anyone who strayed from the narrow path of whatever was acceptable.  The thing was, unlike the evil eye, the evil tongue was often presented as a positive thing; your community caring enough about you to make sure you watched your step, because if any of us messed up, we might not get another chance to fix it. 

This was doubly true for me as a young Latina. Like my main character, Carmen, I was acutely aware of the assumptions that people made about me, both positive and negative. Sometimes it felt like I only existed within other people’s visions of me. I mean—I tried to do everything right, followed all the rules.  I was a Good Catholic Girl, an honor student who was bound for college on scholarships—but I was also surrounded and fascinated by the girls who weren’t. Girls who talked back to teachers, who wore rings of eyeliner and Spandex bandage dresses (two things I favored as well, but only when I was safely out of Mami’s line of sight.) Girls with wild hair who welcomed the catcalls from boys and even men. (Even back then, I wondered why we never seemed to blame said boys or men for any of this.)

The author, from a photography class

Part of the reason I wrote Once Upon a Quinceañera was to celebrate girls like this—the girls who weren’t like me, desperate for everyone’s approval. Because when I was younger, I believed the stoic wall they presented to the world. And just like so many people around me, my ideas about them were only the surface of the story.

For Carmen, the only way to get herself through the negative assumptions is to pretend she doesn’t care. She walks through the world daring anyone to tell her what they think to her face. She doesn’t care, because she already knows. She knows that a lot of people don’t expect someone like her to go to college, or to have an actual career.  She takes comfort in her summer job playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It’s one of the first times that she feels worthy of admiration, even as she acknowledges that the praise and love are for the role she is portraying instead of for herself.

Still, it feels good. 

Unfortunately for Carmen, there is a voice that is louder than the happy shrieks of party going children. The one inside her own brain, hissing the negative stereotypes and comments that we’ve all internalized.  Sometimes, those comments come from the people with good intentions—some of whom love us the most. Carmen feels like she’s fated to make the same mistakes that her parents did—an angry explosion of love that created her and ruined them.  It’s difficult for her to see them as something bigger than their mistakes.

Despite Mami’s incantations and protections, there really isn’t anyway to protect yourself from the world’s assumptions. People are going to think, and occasionally say, whatever they want, and that’s not going to change. In the book, Carmen tries various strategies, from ignoring the speakers to pushing them to further exaggerations so that she could agree with them and show how little it hurt her.

None of that helped at all.

The way that Carmen finally moved past her locked in beliefs about herself and other people was to allow for the fact that, well, people are complicated, and nothing is the sum totality of what they are. Not a bad history, not a terrible mistake, not a slip off the narrow path to success, not living down to everyone’s worst opinion of you.

This is hard. And for a part of the book, Carmen retreated behind her negative history like a shield.  Sure, it didn’t make her happy, but it kept her safe. Or so she thought.

The price of this safety was high. A betrayal of her own ambitions. An inability to risk.

I know Carmen’s dilemma well. It’s always easier to agree with the voice that asks, “who do you think you are?” when you do anything. That voice was my constant companion while I wrote this book. Honestly, it still is.

It’s hard for Carmen to admit what she really wants in Once Upon a Quinceañera. To risk being told, yet again, “Who do you think you are?” It would have been easier for her to hide behind the role of Belle forever, or worse, to hide in the idea that she’s doomed because of where she comes from, and who she’s afraid she really is.

But ultimately, the only way she can create her own happily ever after is to face down the negative external voices, and more importantly, the negative internal voice, by daring to say “I’m here. I belong. And I’m worthy.”

That’s the blessing I needed. In fact, it’s the evergreen blessing I always need as there is some new person to jeer “who do you think you are?” and so there is always the need to say “I am worthy” every time I leave the house.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Nicole Lamkin

Monica Gomez-Hira is the daughter of Colombian immigrant parents, the wife of an Indian immigrant, the mother of a half Latina/half Indian daughter, and the quintessential Jersey girl who loves her salsa as much as her Springsteen. After getting her BA in English at Wellesley College, Monica spent most of her professional life surrounded by books, and the people who love them. She began her career working for literary agencies, moved to publicity and editorial at Simon & Schuster and Random House, and most recently was a Children’s Lead at Barnes & Noble. She lives with her family in Minneapolis, MN. Once Upon a Quinceañera is her first novel.

About Once Upon a Quinceañera

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jane the Virgin, this immediately accessible and irresistibly fun #ownvoices rom-com debut will spin readers into an unforgettable summer of late-night dancing, broken hearts, second chances, and telenovela twists.

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

ISBN-13: 9780062996831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Climate Change Fiction: Multicultural, Diverse, Global, and with Animals, Too! a guest blog by author Claire Datnow

Fiction can be a powerful way for students to understand how climate change has and will affect their future. Cli-Fi (climate change fiction) can serve as a springboard for lively discussions. In addition, stories offer ways in which students can envision and adjust to climate change through new technology and social adaptations. The ideas discussed below can be used  to encourage  class reading, enrich a unit on this topic and, hopefully, inspire students to do research, or create their own stories, poems, drawings of the future altered by climate change.

I began writing Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure (for Middle Grades and up) three years ago, horrified by the wildfires sweeping around the globe. My novel relates the dramatic story of three special young people from across the world, the amazing animals that are part of their lives, and the terrible threats of wildfires—threats that affect the entire world. Climate change is a serious reality to write about. The good news is that after decades of misinformation, denial, and inadequate attempts to reduce the dire impact of climate change, young people around the world are searching for ways to understand and to take action. 

Keeping this in mind, I decided not to sugarcoat the truth. Instead, I choose decided to weave a solid base of scientific knowledge into a compelling story, in order to create a hopeful, yet realistic ending rather than gloomy or magical fairytale one. For me, the books I write will always be grounded in science. Telling a moving story does not mean making up facts—we have enough of that already—the basis of the narrative has to be the truth and reality of climate change and the need for social injustice. 

After I’d completed Red Flag Warning, I saw more clearly how I’d woven diverse, multicultural, indigenous, and global themes into my story. The three protagonists are: Aisyah from Sumatra, Indonesia, whose ancestors are the Batak people: Kirri  from Australia, whose ancestors are Aboriginal: and Hector from Northern California with roots in the Native American people of Mexico. The three draw strength and pride from the ancient wisdom of their ancestors. And, although they come from very different backgrounds the three become close friends. 

As a writer and teacher I understand we need diverse stories to serve as mirrors that reflect ourselves and helps build pride in our identity. We also need multicultural stories that serves as windows through which we can begin to understand people of backgrounds different from our own. By weaving these strands together, I hope that Red Flag Warning delivers a powerful message: young people can work together to take action to heal the Earth.  Compelling narratives interwoven with science can entertain, educate, and inspire readers. As storytellers we hold the keys to touching our readers’ hearts, to ignite their imagination to build a bridge to tomorrow that will empower them to take action for the greater good of humanity and the wellbeing of the Earth. 

Environmental literacy can be integrated into subjects and activities already in the curriculum. In this way climate/environmental stories can serve as a springboard to lively discussions, projects, or research.  Fortunately there are variety of novels to choose from at all levels. For a comprehensive list visit: https: https://dragonfly.eco/category/books/ya-fiction/Additional resources are listed at the end of Red Flag Warning: An Eco MysteryFor a free Teacher Handout,  “How to Become an Eco Detective: An Interdisciplinary Unit for Writing Across the Curriculum visit: mediamint.net


I will end this blog by quoting from a review by Professor Karl Schinasi:

In Red Flag Warning Claire Datnow has written an uncommon kind of YA novel. It’s not just that it’s a work of “eco-fiction.” It’s not just that she weaves scientific ideas seamlessly into her narrative. It’s not just that science and magical realism (one of the characters telecommunicates with an orangutan) appear together in the novel. It’s not just that through three protagonists we’re exposed to three different countries, their environments and their cultures. It’s not just that Mrs. Datnow’s characters care as much about animals and the natural world as the care about other homo sapiens. The novel contains all of these elements. The striking achievement of this novel, at least to this reader, is the author’s ability to include and combine these and other separate and sometimes disparate ideas into one short novel, and also in the end, produce a book that easily can be categorized as educational and a “good read.”


BIO: Claire Datnow was born and raised In Johannesburg, South Africa, which ignited her love for the natural world and for diverse cultures. Claire taught creative writing to gifted and talented students in the Birmingham, Alabama Public Schools. She earned an MA in Education for Gifted and Talented and a second MA in Public History. Her books for middle schoolers include The Adventures of the Sizzling Six, an eco-mystery series, and Edwin Hubble, Discoverer of Galaxies. Claire’s most recent novel, Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure, weaves in the theme of global climate change. Claire’s books for adults include a memoir, Behind The Walled Garden of Apartheid and The Nine Inheritors. Claire has received numerous scholarships and awards, including the Alabama Conservancy Blanche Dean Award for Outstanding Nature Educator, a Beeson Samford Writing Project Fellowship, a Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Scholarship, and Birmingham Public School Teacher of the Year. Claire’s Monarch Mysteries was long listed for the Green Book Award 2020. Together with her students she founded a nature trail, now named in her honor, the Alabama Audubon-Datnow Forest Preserve. She enjoys visiting schools to inspire students to write their own eco-mystery stories, to become wise stewards of the Earth, and to take action in their own communities. 

The Flicker of a Smile, a guest post by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

                

“You wrote a whole book?” she asked. Eight-year-old Mia* and I were at our customary spot at the little round table in my math support classroom where we worked together three times a week. We had recently begun meeting one-on-one rather than in a small group with Mia’s peers, and it was working: instead of timidly twisting a tissue under the table with her delicate brown hands and hanging back, on her own she was happy, focused, engaged. She was making huge gains.

On that particular day, Mia and I had been talking about grit and perseverance, and she’d just learned that my debut novel, American Betiya, was going to be published. Her excitement was palpable; she bounced in her seat. “Is your book funny?”

“Yes. I made sure to make it funny.”

Her deep brown eyes sparkled impishly. Rolling a couple dice we’d been using in her hands, she asked, “What’s it about?”

Ah, the dreaded question. How to explain the heart of my #ownvoices upper YA book about first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship to a third grader? Or to anyone, for that matter?

“It’s about love, friendship, and family,” I say finally. “And how when people don’t see each other’s points of view, there can be a lot of hurt feelings.” I stop, suddenly uncertain. This went dark fast.

But she sat forward. “Oh, so there is, like, fighting in your book?”

“Some,” I admit. “Mainly it shows how even with people you love, sometimes you have to fight for who you are.”

She gazed at me a moment, this wise-beyond-her-years girl who has gone from skulking uncertainly to bounding happily into my classroom, brightening my day every time. “What if you don’t know who you are yet?”

“That’s a big part of the book,” I said. “Figuring out who you are.”

She considered this. “And you said it’s also funny.”

“Yep. There’s a lot of silliness with friends,” I said, watching a slow smile spread across her face. “A book can be funny and serious, happy and sad, right?”

“Yeah.” She studied me. “Those are actually my favorite kinds of books.” She set down the dice and grabbed a handful of rubber teddy bear counters. “You know The Watsons Go to Birmingham?”

I looked at her, genuinely stunned. “How did you know that’s one of my favorite books of all time?”

“What?! Mine too!” she crows happily. “It’s got everything in it.” She begins arranging the bears into a circle. “Like yours.”

Working with students, especially those from underrepresented communities, reminds me of why I wrote American Betiya. On its surface, it’s a story about breaking from social and family expectations, first love, and learning to embrace the beauty of your cultural identity amid your search for love and belonging. But it’s also a story about feminist allyship, and learning to become an upstander for yourself in the face of specific kinds of microaggressions—the kinds that arise in places we least expect. As my main character Rani hurtles headfirst into her quest for love while her often charming boyfriend behaves in questionable ways, the story reveals how true first love is your own sense of dignity—one that is sculpted messily over time.

Amid the widespread “love conquers all” narrative so common in young adult literature, I hoped instead to explore the way our cultural identities intersect with love, personal boundaries, and respect.

Usually, when we think of racism, we imagine hate crimes, strangers yelling slurs, and perhaps the reality of systemic racism. But managing racism and patriarchy in our closest relationships are nuances that are just beginning to arise in our cultural conversation. Working with Mia both in a small group versus individually reminded me that microaggressions in our daily relationships—sometimes even our closest relationships—are so challenging because of the faith you have placed in them. The trust you have in them. Having watched Mia navigate her complicated surroundings reminded me of what I had always wished I had had more of growing up: More allies in the face of microaggressions. A stronger sense of myself as I learned to embrace my own sense of identity. And stories about the same that told me I wasn’t alone.

I was late joining the small group of students in my room that included Mia. The students were already at the table, eating their snacks, and I overheard one student—a girl who presented at times as being a friend of Mia’s— mocking the snack Mia had brought, one that was specific to her culture. On the spot, we discussed how that kind of a comment makes people feel, how foods from different cultures are actually really cool, and I shared my personal favorite snack foods—samosas and chaklis. As we moved on to the math lesson, Mia was quiet, but I noticed that she participated more than usual. I even saw the flicker of a smile.

At eight, Mia already knew a lot about fielding microaggressions, bias, and stereotyping. She already knew what it was like to try to seek belonging in a predominantly white learning community that didn’t always value the ways she was different. She knew the stress and exhaustion of self-advocacy. She’s experienced how racism can come from anywhere, even those close to you. She recognizes that sometimes, staying silent is self-preservation, and yet how an ally stepping in can turn everything on its head.

When we were together—both BIPOC females in a predominantly white institution—my classroom became a newfound safe space for both of us. Over the months I got to work with her, I admired her resilience, her quiet tenacity, her grit. Her teacher eventually shared that Mia was slowly coming into her own in class, opening herself up to her peers in a way that felt like small progress. She taught me, in her quiet way, all about grace.

Mia and I shared a love for stories about characters from diverse cultures who experience the joys and challenges of growing up nonwhite in America. We both love characters that embrace their identity while discovering spaces that are imbued with a warm sense of belonging, of laughter. That genuine feeling of love.

I hope that when she’s old enough to read it, she finds all of that and more in American Betiya.

I hope it makes her proud.

*All names and personal details have been changed for privacy.

Meet the author

Anuradha D. Rajurkar is the recipient of the nationwide SCBWI Emerging Voices Award for her YA contemporary debut, American Betiya (Knopf). Born and raised in the Chicago area to South Asian immigrant parents, Anuradha earned two degrees from Northwestern University, and for many years had the joy of being a public school teacher by day, writer by night. Nowadays, when she’s not writing or reading, Anuradha spends her time hiking through forests with her husband, obsessing over her garden, watching old horror flicks with her sons, eating too many baked yummies, or roguishly knitting sweaters without their patterns. She hopes her stories will inspire teens to embrace their unique identities and inner badass despite outside pressures and cultural expectations. American Betiya is her first novel.

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About American Betiya

A luminous story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship. Perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson.

Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in—his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art—make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself—and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

Winner of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices award, Anuradha D. Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.

ISBN-13: 9781984897152
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Mail: New titles for middle grade and teen readers

Here are a slew of new and forthcoming titles. Some of these have arrived to me digitally. All summaries are from the publisher.

Call Me Him by River Braun (ISBN-13: 979-8557679978 Publisher: Independently Published Publication date: 12/01/2020, Ages 12 up)

Fight. Sleep. Repeat. That’s life for 14-year-old SoCal skate-punk Wylie Masterson. Like most teens, Wylie struggles with authority, puberty, and family. But when you’re a transgender male whose body, family, and society insist that you are female, the struggle to break out and live the life you were meant to live becomes a matter of life and death. Born Willow, Wylie wants nothing more than to escape his oppressive SoCal hometown and live the life he was meant to live—as a man, but his overly-religious mother has other plans for her “sweet, lovely daughter.”

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda (PAPERBACK ISBN-13: 9780525518235 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/29/2020 Series: Aurelian Cycle Series #1, Ages 12-17)

Game of Thrones meets Red Rising in a debut young adult fantasy that’s full of rivalry, romance . . . and dragons.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.

Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge by Ann Bausum (ISBN-13: 9781426338540 Publisher: National Geographic Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 10-14)

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children.” —Gestapo agent, August 24, 1944

With those chilling words Christa von Hofacker and her younger siblings found themselves ensnared in a web of family punishment designed to please one man—Adolf Hitler. The furious dictator sought merciless revenge against not only Christa’s father and the other Germans who had just tried to overthrow his government. He wanted to torment their relatives, too, regardless of age or stature. All of them. Including every last child. 

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (ISBN-13: 9780823447053 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 9-12)

For fans of The War That Saved My Life and other World War II fiction, A Place to Hang the Moon is the tale of three orphaned siblings who are evacuated from London to live in the countryside with the secret hope of finding a permanent family.

It is 1940 and William, 12, Edmund, 11, and Anna, 9, aren’t terribly upset by the death of the not-so-grandmotherly grandmother who has taken care of them since their parents died. But the children do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in short supply, especially if they hope to stay together. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children from London to the countryside be the answer? 

It’s a preposterous plan, but off they go— keeping their predicament a secret, and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. Moving from one billet to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets and the hollowness of empty stomachs. They find comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Müller, seems an excellent choice of billet, except that her German husband’s whereabouts are currently unknown, and some of the villagers consider her unsuitable. 
A Place to Hang the Moon is a story about the dire importance of family: the one you’re given, and the one you choose. 

Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 2: Tater Invaders! by David Fremont (ISBN-13: 9781645950066 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

More hilarious antics, more fast food, and more zany monsters combine in a treat middle grade graphic novel readers will devour in the second installment of the Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher series for fans of Lunch Lady and Dog Man.

Now that Carlton’s an official Creature Catcher with the Shady Plains police department, he’s on the hunt for a new monster. 

While taking a snack break with his buddy and faithful assistant Lulu, suddenly one of their tater tots comes alive! And that little robot tot dude leads them to whole underground world of evil potato creatures. 

Holy bacon bits!

It’s Carlton Crumple to the rescue, and he’ll have to get to the root of the problem before everything becomes a mashed potato mess!

David Fremont bring even more rolling-on-the-floor humor and fast-food fun in the second installment in his bright and brilliant middle grade graphic novel series, which will especially appeal to fans of series like Lunch Lady and Dog Man.

Ellie Makes Her Move by Marilyn Kaye (ISBN-13: 9780823446094 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/09/2021, Ages 8-12)

A magical spyglass reveals secrets that will bring four girls together in this new series.

Twelve-year-old Ellie is ordinary. Absolutely, positively ordinary. Then her dad’s latest community project makes their whole ritzy town, including all of Ellie’s friends, turn against them. Tired of being ostracized, Ellie’s family moves to the other side of the state to live in a rickety 100-year-old house complete with a turret—and Ellie swears off friendship forever.

That is until Ellie explores the turret and discovers an old-fashioned telescope—a spyglass. When she looks through it, the world she sees isn’t the same that’s out the window. There’s a community center that isn’t built yet and her new classmate Alyssa flying around on a broomstick!

To figure out what the magical images mean, Ellie recruits other self-described loners, Alyssa and Rachel. When they see a vision of fellow student Kiara playing tag with a tiger and a donkey—they have their first real spyglass secret to solve.

The New York Times best-selling author behind the Gifted series and the Replica books, Marilyn Kaye delivers a story filled with light magic and heart in this first book in the Spyglass Sisterhood series. Each girl will take a turn at the spyglass, confronting fears and sticking up for her peers.

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses, Theo Gangi (ISBN-13: 9780525516866 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/16/2021, Ages 10-14)

Magic has all but disappeared in Brooklyn, but one tenacious young magician is determined to bring it back in this exciting middle grade mystery.

Kingston has just moved from the suburbs back to Echo City, Brooklyn—the last place his father was seen alive. Kingston’s father was King Preston, one of the world’s greatest magicians. Until one trick went wrong and he disappeared. Now that Kingston is back in Echo City, he’s determined to find his father.

Somehow, though, when his father disappeared, he took all of Echo City’s magic with him. Now Echo City—a ghost of its past—is living up to its name. With no magic left, the magicians have packed up and left town and those who’ve stayed behind don’t look too kindly on any who reminds them of what they once had.

When Kingston finds a magic box his father left behind as a clue, Kingston knows there’s more to his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. He’ll have to keep it a secret—that is, until he can restore magic to Echo City. With his cousin Veronica and childhood friend Too Tall Eddie, Kingston works to solve the clues, but one wrong move and his father might not be the only one who goes missing.

Life in the Balance by Jen Petro-Roy (ISBN-13: 9781250619730 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 02/16/2021, Ages 8-12)

Veronica struggles to balance softball, friends, and family turmoil in this new honest and heartfelt middle grade novel by Jen Petro-Roy, Life in the Balance.

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby. She should have this tryout on lock.

Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team.

Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Is her mom the only one learning balance, or can Veronica find a way to discover what she really wants to do with her life?

Daughter of the White Rose by Diane Zahler (ISBN-13: 9780823446070 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/16/2021, Ages 8-12)

Can a common girl save a prince trapped in the Tower of London?

April. England. 1483. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Nell Gould is the daughter of the royal butcher, a commoner, but she has been raised as the playmate of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth’s royal children: Princess Cecily, Princess Bess, Prince Dickon, and Prince Ned, heir apparent and Nell’s best and closest friend. They think alike, her and Ned, preferring books and jousts to finery and gossip and the sparkle of the court. But when King Edward dies, Prince Ned is imprisoned in the Tower of London by his scheming uncle, the evil Richard III—and Nell with him. Can they escape? Is Nell the key?

Based on the real royal scandal of the Princes in the Tower, Daughter of the White Rose covers a shocking episode in medieval history that has captured the imagination for 530 years. A story of murder, betrayal, resilience, and growing up, this girl-led medieval middle-grade novel will make a perfect companion to Catherine, Called Birdy and The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach (ISBN-13: 9780062995865 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/23/2021, Ages 13-17)

In this spellbinding thriller and YA debut from bestselling author Marti Leimbach, Kira Adams has discovered a cure for death—and it may just cost her life.

Things aren’t going well for Kira. At home, she cares for her mother and fends off debt collectors. At school, she’s awkward and shy. Plus, she may flunk out if she doesn’t stop obsessing about science, her passion and the one thing she’s good at . . . very good at.

When she wins a prestigious science contest she draws the attention of the celebrated professor Dr. Gregory Munn (as well as his handsome assistant), leading to a part-time job in a top-secret laboratory. 

The job is mostly cleaning floors and equipment, but one night, while running her own experiment, she revives a lab rat that has died in her care. 

One minute it is dead, the next it is not.

Suddenly she’s the remarkable wunderkind, the girl who can bring back the dead. Everything is going her way. But it turns out that science can be a dangerous business, and Kira is swept up into a world of international rivalry with dark forces that threaten her life. 

Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman (ISBN-13: 9780823445158 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

Harry has always admired the famous escape artist Houdini. And when Houdini asks for help in coming back to life, it seems like an amazing chance…or could it be Houdini’s greatest trick of all?

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini is NOT Harry Houdini—the famous escape artist who died in 1926. But Harry DOES live in Houdini’s old New York City home, and he definitely knows everything there is to know about Houdini’s life. What is he supposed to do, then, when someone starts texting him claiming that they’re Houdini, communicating from beyond the grave? Respond, of course.

It’s hard for Harry to believe that Houdini is really contacting him, but this Houdini texts the secrets to all of the escape tricks the dead Houdini used to do. What’s more, Houdini’s offering Harry a chance to go back in time and experience it for himself. Should Harry ignore what must be a hoax? Or should he give it a try and take Houdini up on this death-defying offer? 

Dan Gutman is the award-winning author of series including My Weird SchoolThe Genius Files, and the baseball card series, including Honus & Me. He uses his writing powers for good once again in this exciting new middle grade novel.

Deadman’s Castle by Iain Lawrence (ISBN-13: 9780823446551 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/02/2021, Ages 9-12)

For most of his life, Igor and his family have been on the run. Danger lurks around every corner—or so he’s always been told. . . . 

When Igor was five, his father witnessed a terrible crime—and ever since, his whole family has been hunted by a foreboding figure bent on revenge, known only as the Lizard Man. They’ve lived in so many places, with so many identities, that Igor can’t even remember his real name. 

But now he’s twelve years old, and he longs for a normal life. He wants to go to school. Make friends. Stop worrying about how long it will be before his father hears someone prowling around their new house and uproots everything yet again. He’s even starting to wonder—what if the Lizard Man only exists in his father’s frightened mind?

Slowly, Igor starts bending the rules he’s lived by all his life—making friends for the first time, testing the boundaries of where he’s allowed to go in town. But soon, he begins noticing strange things around them—is it in his imagination? Or could the Lizard Man be real after all? 

Iain Lawrence is a winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Children’s Literature Prize and the California Young Reader Medal. In Deadman’s Castle, he brings readers a mystery filled with intrigue and moments of heart-stopping danger. 

Violet and the Pie of Life by D. L. Green (ISBN-13: 9780823447558 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/09/2021, Ages 8-12)

There’s no golden ratio for a family, despite what number-crunching Violet might think.

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math. 

#1: Adjust the ratio of Mom’s nagging to her compliments. 
#2: Multiply Dad’s funny stories by a factor of three. 
#3: Add in romantic stuff wherever possible. 

But when her dad walks out, Violet realizes that the odds do not look good. Why can’t her parents get along like popular, perfect Ally’s parents? Would it be better to have no dad at all, like her best friend, McKenzie? Violet is considering the data when she and Ally get cast in the school play, and McKenzie doesn’t—a probability that Violet never calculated. Maybe friendship and family have more variables than she thought.

Filled with warmth, math-y humor, and delicious pie, this heartfelt middle grade read is perfect for fans of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Includes illustrated charts, graphs, and diagrams throughout.

Flamefall by Rosaria Munda (ISBN-13: 9780525518242 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/23/2021 Series: Aurelian Cycle Series #2, Ages 12-17)

Revolutionary flames ignite around Annie, Lee, and a brand new character in the follow-up to FIREBORNE.

After fleeing the revolution and settling into the craggy cliffs of New Pythos, the dragonlords are eager to punish their usurpers and reclaim their city. Their first order of business was destroying the Callipolan food supply. Now they’re coming for the dragonriders.

Annie is Callipolis’s new Firstrider, charged with leading the war against New Pythos. But with unrest at home, enforcing the government’s rationing program risks turning her into public enemy number one.

Lee struggles to find his place after killing kin for a leader who betrayed him. He can support Annie and the other Guardians . . . or join the rebels who look to topple the new regime.

Griff, a lowborn dragonrider who serves New Pythos, knows he has no future. And now that Julia Stormscourge is no longer there to protect him, he is called on to sacrifice everything for the lords that oppress his people—or to forge a new path with the Callipolan Firstrider seeking his help.

With famine tearing Callipolis apart and the Pythians determined to take back what they lost, it will be up to Annie, Lee, and Griff to decide who—and what—to fight for.

Six Feet Below Zero by Ena Jones (ISBN-13: 9780823446223 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 8-12)

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

Rosie and Baker are hiding something. Something big. Their great grandmother made them promise to pretend she’s alive until they find her missing will and get it in the right hands. The will protects the family house from their grandmother, Grim Hesper, who would sell it and ship Rosie and Baker off to separate boarding schools. They’ve already lost their parents and Great Grammy—they can’t lose each other, too.

The siblings kick it into high gear to locate the will, keep their neighbors from prying, and safeguard the house. Rosie has no time to cope with her grief as disasters pop up around every carefully planned corner. She can’t even bring herself to read her last-ever letter from Great Grammy. But the lies get bigger and bigger as Rosie and Baker try to convince everyone that their great grandmother is still around, and they’ll need more than a six-month supply of frozen noodle casserole and mountains of toilet paper once their wicked grandmother shows up!

This unexpectedly touching read reminds us that families are weird and wonderful, even when they’re missing their best parts. With humor, suspense, and a testament to loyalty, Ena Jones takes two brave kids on an unforgettable journey. Includes four recipes for Great Grammy’s survival treats.

Homewrecker by Deanna Cameron (ISBN-13: 9781989365472 Publisher: Wattpad Books Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 14+)

They say it is quietest in the eye of a storm…they lied.

Bronwyn’s mother is late. Again. Sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, waiting, Bronwyn figures she’s flaked out again. She’s always flaking out. Stomping home ready for a fight, Bronwyn is met by a cataclysmic tornado heading directly toward their run-down trailer. Bronwyn barely escapes with her life. Her mother isn’t as lucky.

Enter Senator Soliday, a.k.a. Bronwyn’s estranged father, who shows up at the hospital and takes her home with him, to a family she’s never been a part of, to people who have proved again and again they don’t want her. Confused, resentful, absolutely raging, Bronwyn enters a world she’s never been privy to, while reeling from the news that her mother wasn’t killed by the tornado but murdered

Torn between two identities: the daughter of a single drug addict and the middle child of a well-respected senator, Bronwyn is forced to navigate through this new, unfamiliar life alone and with a gut feeling she can’t shake.

Her mother’s killer isn’t unfamiliar.

The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons (ISBN-13: 9781984815408 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 12-17)

Love, Simon meets Bend It Like Beckham in this feel-good contemporary romance about a trans teen who must decide between standing up for his rights and staying stealth.

“A sharply observant and vividly drawn debut. I loved every minute I spent in this story, and I’ve never rooted harder for a jock in my life.” – New York Timesbestselling author Becky Albertalli 

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham in training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of isolation and bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio. 

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boys’ soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans—he’s passing. 

But when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone—including the guy he’s falling for.

A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert (ISBN-13: 9781635830651 Publisher: North Star Editions Publication date: 08/03/2021, Ages 14-18)

When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the murderer is brought to justice. While the entire kingdom mourns, Scilla’s betrothed arrives and requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride to confirm the alliance between their countries.
Marrying the young king intended for her sister and traveling to his distant home is distressing enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara abandoned any hope of learning other languages long ago. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land where she’ll be unable to communicate. 
Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin comes from the king’s own country. If she marries the king, Jiara can hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s ghost, whose thirst for blood mounts every day. To save her family, Jiara must find her sister’s killer . . . before he murders her too.

Helping RevolTeens Fight the Mental Health Crisis, by Christine Lively

The COVID crisis has revealed as much as it has changed. Yes, our lives have been upended and drastically changed because our main priority has shifted to trying to survive this pandemic. We’ve all made as many changes as we are able to make: limiting in-person interaction, working and schooling from home, wearing masks, and the list goes on. We’re all aware and resentful of some of these changes, but we’re making them to stay alive.

Another equally important result of the COVID crisis has been what it has revealed. So many inequities, problems, and struggles that existed before March of 2020 have come into sharp focus. For teens and young adults, the COVID crisis has revealed the huge and acute mental health crisis. Anyone who works with teens could tell you (and probably has) that young people have been struggling and suffering from mental health issues more and more for years. In my house, all three of my children have struggled with mental health issues. As a parent, I can tell you that finding help for them has been frighteningly difficult.

I am a high school librarian and at school, I see teens every day who need help. At our school, we have 2300 students and only a handful of qualified mental health professionals. Schools may be able to identify those who need help but are not equipped to provide that help. Teachers work with students who desperately need resources, evaluation, and time to work through their illness. Many teachers go far above and beyond their duties to support and help their students in whatever way they can.  I have personally reached out to try to get services for students who need them and know that it is often impossible to find those services.

All of this existed well before the COVID crisis.

The crisis has made it sharper and more dangerous. Because of the intensity, teens’ mental health has become newsworthy and awareness has been raised.

The New York Times today reports the stories of several teens who are in crisis.  These teens are all different ages and from different parts of the country, but they are all in crisis, and we are not equipped to help them.

‘“What parents and children are consistently reporting is an increase in all symptoms — a child who was a little anxious before the pandemic became very anxious over this past year,” said Dr. Adiaha I. A. Spinks-Franklin, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine. It is this prolonged stress, Dr. Spinks-Franklin said, that in time blunts the brain’s ability to manage emotions.’

All across the country, hospitals are struggling to keep up with the need.

‘Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has an emergency department that is a decent size for a pediatric hospital, with capacity for 62 children or adolescents. But well before the arrival of the coronavirus, the department was straining to handle increasing numbers of patients with behavior problems.

“This was huge problem pre-pandemic,” said Dr. David Axelson, chief of psychiatry and behavioral health at the hospital. “We were seeing a rise in emergency department visits for mental health problems in kids, specifically for suicidal thinking and self-harm. Our emergency department was overwhelmed with it, having to board kids on the medical unit while waiting for psych beds.”’

Many of you reading this probably have your own stories to tell. When my son was in an acute struggle with depression that was life threatening I was told by a mental health professional that I should not tell his school or other people about it. I was shocked. Instead, I would tell anyone who would listen about his life and death struggle with depression. If he had been a child fighting cancer, we would have had community fundraising dinners and printed t-shirts with his face on it to raise awareness and to give him support. Mental illness is just as dangerous and life threatening as any physical disease, so why should we keep it a secret? Feeling alone only makes it worse for many teens. Talking about it helps.

The good news is that teen mental health has gained more attention. Now we have to decide what we are going to do to help teens in crisis and those who will face a lifelong struggle with mental health issues.

How can we help RevolTeens to find a way through their mental health struggles?

The National Association on Mental Illness has some resources for teens on their webpage and is a good place to start. Talking about mental health with the teens in your life makes a huge difference. Normalizing discussions of feelings and struggle makes a helps teens feel comfortable sharing their own difficulties. Asking for more mental health resources at schools and in your community will help our elected officials recognize the needs of their communities.

Most of all, keep supporting and reaching out to the teens in your life. So many of them struggle in silence and believe that they are alone. We can all share stories of struggle with them to show them that mental illness is as common as physical illness and is usually treatable. Stories in books, in song, in social media, and stories from our own lives all help teens feel less alone. Helping them to find help is the greatest action we can take.

So yes, we have a long standing teen mental health crisis. We can help revolt against that for our teens by standing with them, demanding that services are available to them, and continuing to fight the stigma of mental illness to ensure that more teens can ask for help.

The COVID crisis has revealed the crisis. Now, we have to take action.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively